The last male northern white rhino in the world is now protected by armed guards 24 hours a day in Kenya. The protection comes as the animals are being hunted by poachers seeking massive profits.
Sudan is the last male of his species, decimated by centuries of hunting. Wildlife officials hope that the 40-year-old rhinoceros will soon breed, protecting the species from imminent extinction. Just five white rhinos are still alive, including a pair of females in captivity.
The lone male rhino has been fitted with radio transmitters as part of a plan to protect the creature from poachers. These hunters often kill rhinos to harvest their horns. Wildlife officials removed the appendage to keep poachers from attempting to harvest the horn.
"The only reason his horn has been cut off is to deter poachers. If the rhino has no horn, he is of no interest to poachers. This is purely to keep him safe," Elodie Sampere of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy said.
Rhino horns are believed to cure a wide range of ailments by many people in Asia. This belief fuels a market for the appendages, leading to widespread hunting, which has nearly led to extinction of the species.
"The northern white range states of Chad, Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been ravaged by years of civil war, which, together with the demand for rhino horn, had devastated northern white populations to the point of extinction," Ol Pejeta Conservancy officials stated in a press release.
At the end of the 19th century, populations of southern white rhinos were reduced to between 20 and 50 animals. A series of conservation efforts over the last century has increased that number to around 20,000 individuals. In another success story, just 2,300 black rhinos were known to exist in the wild in 1993, but that number now sits at around 5,000 individuals.
Rangers in Kenya are risking their lives protecting the rhino from poachers who will stop at nothing to collect their ill-gotten booty.
"We often find ourselves in the line of fire to protect animals — it's part of the job, especially while foiling attempted poaching attacks. It's our duty to apprehend any individuals found on the conservancy without authorization and to deal with any suspicious activity that may jeopardize the security of our animals," Simon Irungu, team commander at Ol Pejeta, said.
Kenyan wildlife officials hope that efforts similar to those that brought back southern white and black rhinos can help save the last of this dying subspecies before it is too late.